Code Switch (NPR), “The Origin (And Hot Stank) Of The ‘Chitlin’ Circuit'”

February 16, 2014

Tanya Ballard Brown, “The Origin (And Hot Stank) Of The ‘Chitlin’ Circuit’” (Code Switch, NPR blog, Feb. 16, 2014)

“[Lou Rawls has] been credited with the term,” says Ben Zimmer, executive producer of and language columnist for The Wall Street Journal. “All the early examples of it … are from interviews with him.”

Zimmer is referring to two interviews with the singer, the first a Dec. 3, 1966 Billboard magazine piece:

As a result of the disk hits, [Lou] Rawls has become an artist in demand. He’s booked solid through next August and is first starting to play cities off the “chitlin’ circuit,” his affectionate name for the small blues clubs. […]

Rawls described the scene in a Jan. 8, 1967 Los Angeles Times interview:

“For years I played night clubs, working the Chitlin’ Circuit. These clubs were very small, very tight, very crowded and very loud. Everything was loud but the entertainment. The only way to establish communication was by telling a story that would lead into the song, that would catch people’s attention.”

“He was talking about the Chitlin’ Circuit as these clubs that he was playing, he had just come out with an album Lou Rawls Live! … and that album had a lot of these monologues that he would do in these different clubs,” Zimmer says. “So he was talking about that experience, but it’s interesting that that was when Lou Rawls was achieving enough fame that he didn’t have to work the Chitlin’ Circuit anymore, he was graduating beyond that.”

Read the rest here.

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